Is it possible to make it too easy for nonbelievers to embrace Christianity?
I heard a news report that a church was offering free gasoline cards to the first three visitors at their church on Sunday morning. Given the severe economic recession America presently faces, this offer will probably attract willing accepters. But is this a proper way to entice people to church?
Undoubtedly some Christians wouldn't object to this kind of outreach method. They may reason that the church is merely investing its money in a special evangelistic practice. They may say that you must first get a person's attention and get them in the church door, then present the gospel message to them. They may even argue that God's grace attracts people in different ways, such as drawing people in by addressing a seeming need (in this case financial). Some church leaders might view this approach as a wise investment of church funds—given that new converts may eventually become tithing church members.
Cheapening Christian Capital?
I think when churches use new attention-grabbing techniques to reach nonbelievers they run a definite risk of cheapening hard-earned Christian capital. The Christian world-and-life view makes powerful claims about the very nature of truth, reality, and goodness. At its essence, historic Christianity focuses on how the God-man Jesus Christ came into the time-space world to offer an atoning sacrifice that rescues sinners from God's just, moral wrath (1 John 2:2). In other words, the gospel is the answer to humankind's greatest moral, spiritual, and existential needs. And many believers through the centuries have made great sacrifices to follow their Lord and Savior.
To my mind such a profound message shouldn't be associated with Madison Avenue-like publicity stunts. Using what amounts to gimmicks to attract potential converts smacks of trickery or manipulation. And too many people already view institutionalized Christianity with deep suspicion, especially as it relates to money and marketing appeal.
The Gospel is Not a Commodity
The gospel message isn't a product up for sale. It's the truth about God and his relationship to fallen humanity. It's the hope of life eternal in the face of certain death. Yet churches sometimes market Christianity as a commodity. Ever see the bumper sticker: "Got Jesus?"
Though some people view such popular phrases as catchy and contemporary methods of making Christianity relevant in today's society, I think in the long run they send the wrong message. They diminish both the profound spiritual need of humanity as well as the gift of divine redemption. Coming to know God through Jesus Christ isn't like selecting produce at the grocery store. And Christians should never see nonbelievers as potential "customers."
I'm not against believers using clever and provocative means to draw people to church. But marketing skills must also involve a great appreciation for sound theological understanding and a deep grasp of what is ultimately at stake for humanity.
Consider the Apostle Paul's statement about his focus in presenting the gospel:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1–2)
For more on the Christian worldview and how it relates to evangelism and apologetics, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
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